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FICTION / Thrillers / Supernatural
FICTION / Thrillers / Suspense
FICTION / Thrillers / Crime
When children begin disappearing, taken by what witnesses call Slenderman, will investigative reporter Pacie Rose be able to stop the tall, skinny entity in a black suit before it makes Black Water a permanent home?
Pacie Rose is picking strawberries with her family when her sidekick calls with news of a child’s abduction. As Black Water’s beloved investigative reporter, she takes on the task of stopping the growing list of casualties caused by this madman. No one is safe, not even her family.
Abductions, murder, and suicides have spiked in the Lake Michigan resort town of Black Water necessitating the help of Pacie Rose. But will she crumble when the slender man comes for her?
Nine-year-old Morgan Rafferty sat the white plastic grocery bag filled with hot dog buns on top of the picnic table. She rubbed the goosebumps on her arms, wondering why her hairs prickled. It was not cold outside, in fact, it was a sweltering Saturday morning. It gave her a creepy feeling, like something bad was going to happen.
Morgan tucked a few strands of her long brown hair behind an ear. “When do we get to eat?”
“It won’t be long,” her mom, Mary said, setting the cooler next to the buns. “It’ll take a little while for the coals to get hot. You can go play with the other kids, just don’t wander off.”
Morgan glanced at the dozen tables under the roof of the open pavilion. “Where’s Jerome’s birthday cake?”
“Cassandra’s bringing it. She’s waiting for Jerome to finish setting up his project at school so that it’s ready for the science fair tomorrow.” Mary watched the growing number of kids fill the park; some she recognized like Jerome’s grandparents and aunt and uncle, and others she did not. Then she saw Cassandra and Jerome get out of their car. “They’re here now. I’m going to help them carry things for the party. I’ll be right back.”
“Let’s go swing,” Morgan said to her younger brother, Tyler.
“Okay,” he said as he raced toward the swing set.
Sugar Sand Park in Black Water was Morgan’s favorite place to play. Not only did it have swings but also a wooden fort to climb into and slide out of, a merry-go-round, and teeter-totters. There was even a path that led into the woods. She had walked the trail before with her dad. They would follow it to the fork; one way went to the beach and the other way led deeper into the dark mass of trees. They never went that way; she was not sure why. Maybe it was because of wild animals, or maybe they would get lost, he never really said. But going to the beach was the best option anyway because there were sand dunes, smooth stones to toss in the water, and sugar sand to build castles with.
“I beat you,” Tyler said, sitting on his favorite swing, one of the smaller ones that hung closer to the ground.
Morgan sat on one a few seats down and swung. Swinging too high was a little scary because the park sat on top of a hill and looked out over Lake Michigan. Sometimes it made her feel like she was on the roof of a skyscraper and if she would swing too high, she might fly off the seat and soar over the edge and out of sight, landing in a soft pile of sand or possibly be scooped up by a passing seagull where she would ride on its back like Harry Potter on a broom. Morgan knew that could not happen; she was fairly sure of it. Nevertheless, she gripped the chains so tight that her hands ached.
“Hey, guys,” Jerome said, running up to them. He wiped the perspiration from his brow and sat down on a swing between the two of them. “Can you believe I’m eight years old now?”
“I’m older than you,” Morgan said, slowing her swing. “I’m nine.”
“I’ll be eight next year,” Tyler chimed in.
The sun was bright, and the air felt wet on the summer day. The wind gusting off the lake kept blowing Morgan’s long hair over her eyes. She should have let her mom pull it back into a ponytail. Stopping her swing, she looked over at the pavilion; there were lots of people, mostly kids running around, laughing and screaming. “Do you know all these people, Jerome?”
Jerome looked around. “Nope, not all of them. I know Grammy and Gramps and Uncle James and Aunt Sue and all my cousins. I think there’s a ton of people here for the science fair tomorrow.”
Morgan was not sure of that logic. “Maybe. Or it could be because it’s hot as hell and people want to go swimming.”
“Awe, you just swore,” Tyler said. “I’m telling mom.”
“I’m just stating a fact,” Morgan glared at Tyler. “Okay, it’s hot as heck. Is that better?”
Jerome laughed as he rose to the skyscraper height.
Morgan dragged the toes of her shoes in the sand, bringing her swing to a stop. She stood up and walked toward the trail.
“Where are you going?” Tyler shouted.
“I saw a little bunny rabbit.”
Tyler brought his swing to a stop. “You’re not supposed to go in the woods without mom or dad.”
“I’m not going in the woods,” she shouted back.
“Looks like it to me,” Tyler said.
Morgan stopped in front of the path. A cute little rabbit was feeding on some grass along the trail’s edge. She looked back at Tyler and Jerome who were watching her, then crossed the line from mown lawn into the tree shadows. It was cooler than being out in the open and the wind was calm, calm enough for an annoying mosquito to buzz around her face. As Morgan approached the rabbit, it hopped farther down the path. She would take a couple of steps and it would take a couple of hops, drawing her deeper into the darkness.
Morgan was not afraid. She knew the fork was ahead and that if she did not go left, things would be fine. But the silly rabbit led her to the fork. She looked back, way back, and saw that Tyler and Jerome had followed her and were now standing at the cutoff point, the point between light and dark. They shouted at her to turn around, but the bunny was almost within her reach. When she caught it, she would take it back and show them the cute little animal. It would all be worth it.
Now at the fork in the path, she groaned. The bunny turned left, but it was so close. What would it hurt to go down the left fork and into the depth of the forest for just a little way? That is all she must do to catch the cuddly little thing. So she did.
Then she heard someone say, “I can get the bunny for you.”
There before her was a tall man, taller than her dad and skinnier, way skinnier. He wore an old-fashioned black suit with a black tie, and when she looked at his face, she had difficulty telling if he was smiling at her because the gloomy shadows obscured its paleness. She knew she was not supposed to talk to strangers, but he must be someone important, someone who could be trusted because he was dressed up in a businessman’s suit. She nodded.
The man reached down and picked up the rabbit. “I will give him to you if you come get him.”
Morgan watched him pet the bunny. It surprised her that it was not trying to jump out of his hands. She stood still. “Who are you?”
“I am no one to worry about, Morgan. I live down this trail in an old mansion where there are candy cane trees, cotton candy flowers, and a playhouse made of gingerbread. And I even have a little white pony that you could ride. Its mane is braided with pink bows. Have you ever ridden a pony?”
Morgan was not sure she saw his mouth move when he spoke, or even if he had eyes. But it was dark, she reasoned. She nodded, she wanted to visit the magical place, but how did he know her name? “Do you know me?”
“Of course, I know you, Morgan.” His voice was nonthreatening. “I am friends with your father. He speaks of you often. I have even been to your home, but I do not think you saw me. Your father would surely approve of you visiting me. You can trust me.”
Morgan knew she should run away, run back to where Tyler and Jerome were, but there was a part of her that, to her surprise, was sure it was safe to go with this strange man.
The man extended the rabbit toward her. “You can come and get the cute little bunny and then I will show you my magical home. I am sure you will enjoy it. Later, I will invite Tyler and Jerome to visit. That would be a lot of fun, don’t you think?”
And so, Morgan did as the odd man said.
* * *
“Mom, mom!” Tyler yelled as he and Jerome sprinted to the pavilion.
Mary had just finished putting a sailboat adorned tablecloth on a picnic table. She looked up as she smoothed out the fold marks. “What’s going on?”
Tyler was gasping for air. “A man took Morgan.”
“A tall skinny man in the woods,” Jerome said quickly.
Cassandra was about to place the birthday cake on the clean tablecloth when it dropped from her hands, splattering on the concrete floor.
Mary’s eyes widened. “Where? Where is she?”
“On the trail, she was chasing a rabbit. I’ll show you.” Tyler waved for his mom to follow him as he raced back toward the trail in the woods.
“I’m calling the police,” Cassandra shouted after them. Her trembling hands almost made it impossible to pull the phone from her back pocket.
“Morgan, where are you?” Mary cried out as she ran with the boys to the trail.
“She was down there,” Tyler pointed. “Back by where the trail turns.”
“Which way did she go?”
“She went left, that’s where the man was.”
Panicked, Mary trotted down the path as other parents ran up behind her. “Morgan, answer me. Where are you?”
One dad looked down the path and then back at the boys. “Are you sure she went that way? I don’t see anyone.”
“Tyler’s right, the man took her that way,” Jerome said. “I saw him. He was super tall, not fat at all, and wore clothes like the guy who buried my Grandpa Wilson.”
Mary’s breaths did not come easy. She stopped and looked at the boys. “You two, go back to the playground.”
At least a dozen adults were now in the woods. Some followed the trail to the left while others went right. Several parents scoured the forest outside the path, looking for any clues to the disappearance.
Then a horrifying scream pierced the desperate shouts for Morgan. There before Mary was a dead rabbit, its neck twisted in a way that made its head face backward. It lay motionless in the center of the trail so as not to be missed. Mary knew in her gut that the man did this gruesome act as a sign. A sign that he had Morgan and could do as he pleased.
Morgan was not found that day.
January 5, 2021: Updated timeline.